Speaking of postage, here's a looky at some of my recent Bleach loot from Annie, Laurie, and Spacecat this month. Some of it was for coming in 4th in the BA art contest, some for winning the IchiRuki essay contest, and Laurie sent me some Bleach stickers just cuz (plus some Hime-like jewelry she thought was totally me!). I will scan the IchiRuki doujinshi asap! And that half-nekky Ishida poster is so going up over my desk--thanks for that Spacey, and thanks guys for cheering me up this month with Bleach chotzkies.
The kids think it's not fair that Mom gets cool presents in the mail so often. I gave Asher the fold-out Hitsugaya poster that came in the Diamond Dust Rebellion movie booklet and Sophie got all the Renji stickers so I think we're cool now.
And now the little ole essay. As always, polite discourse encouraged and yeah, this is shippy stuff but my family honor isn't insulted if you disagree with me. Please, just plainly state what points you are disagreeing with and don't, as one person on a forum did recently, launch into a tirade intending to disqualify all my opinions on the basis that I'm carrying on a delusional love affair with Kubo Tite. Are we clear on that much? Okay, here comes some shippy preaching to the choir:
Essay: how did the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia evolve after the SS arc and how do you think their individual growth in the HM arc will affect it? Did they single out each other during the HM arc and does it show that they are the most important person to each other?
The rumors of the death of the IchiRuki ship are greatly exaggerated.
Probably because of the recent airing of Bleach episode 167 in which Ichigo and Orihime hold hands (a moment that didn't occur in the manga), there's been a recent upswell of "the IchiRuki ship is dead" chant here and there. I see the comments made on YouTube AMVs and in forums, and the impression I'm left with is that fans believe IchiRuki shippers hold on too stubbornly to the SS arc but that the momentum is with the HM arc and the IchiOri ship.
I say that one has to consider Bleach as an entire story--not a set of disparate arcs. To discount what's passed between Ichigo and Rukia in the past 300 chapters of Bleach would like forgetting that Gin once served as Aizen's VC or that that Urahara was expelled from Soul Society for creating a traceable gigai--there are too many plain facts, let alone relationship nuances involving Ichigo and Rukia, to rule them out as the main two characters, if not the main implied romantic couple, of the story.
Sure, the SS arc came to a tentative end. I remember my IchiRuki shipper friends at the time being very disappointed that Rukia didn't return "home" with Ichigo as he fully expected she would. I myself took great pleasure in what seemed to be signs that there was a lot of story left to tell (let alone the fact that the Bad Guy had gotten away, the IshiHime shipper in me loved the trembling text with which Orihime bullied Rukia, who she mistakenly thought Ishida had a thing for, into "taking good care" of that dress Ishida made--hoo, hoo, Rukia looked so clueless and funny in that panel!).
I've written elsewhere that the panel where Rukia, clutching the fabric to her chest, turns to notice Ichigo, is right out of those 30's romances where the music swells. Kubo scratches little marks on background-less space as he likes to do when he illustrates the "air" (to emphasize the importance of the characters' interactions, he's stated).
And the arc concludes with a rare smile from Grumpus Ichigo and his thank you to Rukia for having made the rain stop.
Yes, the rain. The Tanabata theme. Tanabata is a motif in Bleach whether you like it or not, and according to the story, when the rain stops, the lovers can be together. I've said elsewhere that I don't think the Tanabata theme of Bleach is all about love and lovers--it's more about separations. So when the rain stops, there's a "coming together"--as in a mutual understanding, a truce, a realization, a meeting of minds. I think that's what we have here at the end of the SS arc.
IchIRuki shippers wanted more, though. And they got it.
IchiRuki shippers are all too familiar with the panels--the full page one of Rukia in the window before this scene and the one of Ichigo stammering Rukia's name afterwards (the one IchiRuki detractors like to explain away as Ichigo being merely shocked ... he only recently had five Shinigami show up at his school and he didn't blink an eye but now one shows up at the window and he can't talk?)
Rukia promptly diffuses the situation by kicking Ichigo and dragging him out of the room.
Before the SS arc, Ichigo and Rukia's classmates' observations added to sense of the pair being an "item" (Mizuro spreading the rumor that Ichigo and Rukia had "done it," the girls at lunch asking Rukia what was really going on with her and Ichigo), and here, we seem to have some sense of detached knowing from the Shinigami. From Matsumoto, at least--who says that the stupid face that Ichigo gave Rukia was "attractive." I read that as "smitten," but that may just be me.
There is subsequent comedy about Rukia assuming that she's going to stay in Ichigo's room (I particularly get a kick out of one of the items that's she brought back with her for her stay in his closet being a "massager"--a not so innocuous novelty item in Japan) and for a while, the relationship seems as it was before--albeit with some heightened sexual tension. Ichigo doesn't want Rukia sitting on his bed and appears to be spazzing a little from her proximity.
The most notable change in the IchiRuki relationship comes, though, when Rukia's zanpakutou is introduced. Yes, it was her sword that started the Bleach story when it, a zanpakutou which is supposedly the manifestation of a Shinigami's soul, pierced Ichigo through the heart and gave him the power he always wanted to protect, but in chapter 200 we finally see it. Sode No Shirayuki. Ichigo is dutifully impressed but the bigger impression is on the Bleach audience with whom Kubo has been toying with the Yin/Yang imagery for some time now.
Rukia's blade is a pristine white and Ichigo's blade is black. Well, that's nice, so what? Bleach, by its very title, tells you its about color transformations and possibly about the moral distinctions between Black and White, but it seems fairly important when the author gives two characters weapons the corresponding qualities of the two most important forces in his story. This past year, Zangetsu and Sode No Shirayuki were featured on the manga calendar illustration drawn by Kubo, and the Yin-Yang theme is ever-present in Bleach lore within and outside the manga. The Bleach databooks, which were partly written by Kubo and which bear cover poems written by him, flaunt the theme:
At the risk of offending someone, and please, I don't intend to--please, it's up to the Bleach fandom to play with the source material as it wishes and write all the poems it wants about celestial objects (hey, I'm the one who was putting out the call for Kenpachi Sestinas not long ago!), I have to say at this point that I've been really amused with attempts by IchiOri shippers to appropriate this poem by Kubo Tite to their ship. Because Aizen has referred to Orihime as a "sun" in the manga and there may or may not have been other references to Orihime as a sun in the manga and anime, IchiOri shippers have taken to calling her the "white sun" and to calling Ichigo, by virtue of his attacks, "black moon." (It makes sense to me, though, that if Ichigo's powers were conferred upon him originally by Rukia, deemed the MOON, by Kubo, then his attacks would have moonish names like Getsuga Tenshou, moon-fang piercer of the heavens --but at no point is Ichigo himself referred to as THE moon).
Insofar as the databook poems by Kubo go, Ichigo is "the sun who locks heaven" in one poem and Rukia is "the moon that erases the night." The cover poems make it clear who's who too: The rain drags Black Sun down but the rain dried by White Moon.
Further evidence that Kubo thinks of Rukia as his moonchild comes from an illustration he did for the Honey Dish Rhapsody (a novelette not written by Kubo by endorsed by him) and recently re-released in the Bleach Paint coloring book:
(awww, she's wearing the dress Ishida made for her. XD)
To continue with how our pair evolve singularly and as a couple post SS, though, let's just say that after a bunch of fighting, the inevitable happens. What must occur in every fighting manga occurs---the heroes get their asses kicked.
Rukia gets a hole punched through her and Ichigo loses a fight. Ichigo feels guilty as shit. While Rukia is lying wounded and Orihime is healing her, we get "the face that launched a Fandom Wank" or the controversial panel in which Ichigo is either, depending on what ship you saw things from, staring into space or looking with unusual emotional attachment towards Rukia. I wasn't a hardcore IchiRuki shipper at the time this chapter appeared but as an Orihime fan, I know what I believed Orihime thought.
Rukia and Ichigo again share an important moment in chapter 235 when Rukia shows up to save Ichigo's ass. As always, there's time for a little banter. Many people say that this is the stuff friendships and many male partnerships are made of but it's not out of the realm of romance either. I'd include "shut up" as an endearment which is covered by the Venn diagram of Things You Say to One You Love.
One of my favorite IchiRuki post SS moments is one in which Orihime plays a key part. As in the chapter "Trifle" when Ichigo gave Rukia that look, Orihime takes notice of Rukia's attitude toward Ichigo in chapter 228. Rukia trusts Ichigo unequivocably. She is not envious. She is not doubting. She doesn't yearn for more information or intimacy.
I could write a whole other essay on the ways in which Orihime struggles to connect with Ichigo over the course of the manga. I do believe that struggles require resolution and that the "don't get hurt anymore" scene was the beginning of Orihime's connections to Ichigo, but when compared to Rukia's evolving relationship with Ichigo, Orihime has shared little dialogue, let alone meaningful dialogue with Ichigo, and has reported (to Matsumoto) frustration and despair. IchiRuki detractors like to make fun of the IchiRuki relationship as all kicks and sibling play but the relationship consists of very intimate verbal utterances of trust. Here in chapter 228 after Ichigo seeks Visored training, Rukia expresses her trust in Ichigo to Orihime, but throughout the manga she has expressed that trust directly to Ichigo.
Chapter 20: "I don't have a method of stepping into the depths of your heart without it getting dirty, so I'll wait. When you want to talk, when you think it's okay to talk, talk to me."
Chapter 196: "Pull yourself together and roar. The YOU that still lives in my heart would do that, Ichigo!"
And of course, when Ichigo told Rukia that she'd made the rain stop, that was an expression of trust too, of reliance as well as thanks. It marked the forming of a bond.
(Let's look at the two great "connecting moments" for the two ships in the two arcs for a moment, shall we? Rukia made the rain stop. Orihime told Ichigo not to get hurt anymore. The weakness of the latter really stands out for me---Ichigo is the protagonist of a fighting manga and here Orihime is shown falling short of understanding him (and their situation) when she tells him he doesn't have to win, he just doesn't have to get hurt anymore. Newsflash: if Ichigo doesn't win, no one gets out of HM alive. Kubo also mocks Orihime's inspirational plea by having Ichigo promptly get hurt by Grimmjow after Ichigo swears he can no longer be hurt because of her words).
After Orihime is taken away and Soul Society forbids any attempts to rescue her, Ichigo is separated from Rukia again. We see her, being escorted out of the Living World by Renji's gentle hand on her shoulder, looking over at Ichigo who is looking forlornly away. The shippers here were predicting a new turn of events. After Orihime's emotion-laden love confession to a sleeping Ichigo and after this little gesture from Renji, were the romantic couples going to be aligned in a way that went against what the majority of the Bleach fandom had been predicting?
Ichigo sets off with Ishida and Chad to Hueco Mundo. Rukia isn't even part of the scene but then, in a recreation of the time the Shinigami Five show up at Karakura High---
Ichigo gets a chance to look stupid again.
And this time he gets beaten up double; Rukia AND Renji jump on him. What follows is the famous "nakama" scene. This scene was a turning point for many a Bleach fan. I remember being fairly excited when the chapter came out that two of my favorites, Rukia and Renji were going to play a role in the rescue arc, but I didn't believe the chapter had shipping promise. Now I wonder. Rukia framed the question clearly. "Aren't we nakama?"
Much has been made out of Ichigo's surprised look, his hesitation, out of Renji's reverent standing back to give Rukia space to address this issue with this significant other person in her life. Shippy or not, the issue does point to one of trust. Rukia was mad at Ichigo because he didn't trust her to defy Soul Society and all its laws and her role as a Shinigami to follow him to HM.
The trust issue is brought up a little later in the story, when Ichigo worries about the group separating. Kubo gives us a full panel of Rukia looking tiny in her cloak in the big ole passageway from Ichigo's point of view before he has Ichigo announce that the job's too big for everyone else now--he, Ichigo, is going alone henceforth, thanks!
That idea is rejected and the group decides to split up five ways and there's more tension between Ichigo wanting to be the uber-hero and the nakama wanting to help--but the focus is particularly on Rukia. Ichigo is clearly worried about her the most. His concern is blatant. Ishida and Chad stand by self-consciously. Renji steps foward.
Considering that the first arc was about Ichigo's learning to use the powers that Rukia gave him to protect in order to protect Rukia, there's a logical symmetry to Rukia's saying that she didn't come to HM to be protected by Ichigo.
And she isn't. She fights her own battle. And what a battle it is. Just as SS can't be considered a "done deal" insofar as the Ichigo and Rukia relationship is concerned, one has to see the battle of Kuchiki Rukia vs Aaroniero Arruruerie as a reprise of Rukia's "Memories in the Rain" with Kaien. Here, in what had first appeared to be an arc that was going to focus primarily on Inoue Orihime's character development, we've suddenly got Rukia confronting the guilt of her past.
Seems that Rukia hadn't gotten over it.
I know that I was stunned when Rukia told the Espada she believed at the moment to be Kaien that he could gladly kill her in payment for what she'd done to him but first she had to rescue Inoue. Did the guilt really go that deep?
Apparently it did. And by the end of the battle, we have what is arguably the biggest stretch of character development for anyone in the HM arc; we do have what is decisively the biggest win for one of the rescue team. Rukia kills an Espada. Fanbois may have been crying "foul!" and "plotkai!" and whatall, but the glory of the moment for me was that Rukia discovered something essential about the meaning of relationships. She remembered that Kaien had entrusted his heart to her. She was no longer guilty of his death; she could, in fact, avenge it. She turned her power, yet again, on the face and spirit body of her beloved mentor and this time it was without fear and regret.
When someone changes this much in a personal way, it's bound to speak volumes for how he or she interacts with significant others. Rukia's battle was over a year ago (in our time). Time will tell what the resolving of her Kaien issues will mean when she sees Ichigo again.
In the meantime, some clue as to her true feelings about Ichigo were given in her last thoughts before she passed out.
In a reprise of Rukia's thoughts at the execution site in the SS arc when the last person she thought of was Ichigo, again, here, she thinks of friends, Chad and Ishida, then those closer to her (as in those who spent significant years with her in Soul Society), Byakuya and Renji, and then ... in a single panel, Ichigo.
The stark message of the BIG ICHIGO is often undercut by IchiRuki detractors who like to point out that the person Rukia TRULY thinks of last is Orihime ... and that is exactly who is shown smiling in a panel on the next page. But Rukia's desire to save Orihime is being glorified here; that desire doesn't erase the sequence of the previous panels and what appears to be their relative importance in size and sequence.
The chapter where Rukia collapses ends with Ichigo's appropriately responding with utter shock to the drop in her reiatsu
WHEN THE SUN TURNED AROUND FOR THE MOON
The chapter that caught me in the relentless orbit of IchiRuki shipperhood is the chapter I'm going to touch upon now. Chapter 270. It's been discussed ad nauseum in forums and in shipping debates before so I'll be brief. All I know is that when the chapter appeared, I was shocked by Ichigo's behavior and none of his subsequent actions in chapters all this past year can dim for me what happened.
Ichigo's the good guy, the headstrong charge-forth relentless protector who, when he sensed the reiatsu of his best friend Chad fall earlier in the story, gritted his teeth and kept on going. At this point, he did not have any information whatsoever about the goal-person of his mission, Inoue Orihime. He didn't know what Aizen wanted with her, didn't know if she was being subject to torture or rape and even if he could sense her reiatsu, didn't know that she wasn't awaiting a dire fate.
Ichigo, right here, decides to abandon the mission and turns around for Rukia.
Ulquiorra appears and tries to taunt Ichigo into a battle. Ichigo is strangely composed here, strung tight it appears. I've heard people say that when Ulquiorra tells Ichigo that Rukia is dead that it is because Ichigo "doesn't care that much" (sometimes I have to wonder if shippers really believe their own arguments or if they're just batting these idiocies around for the hell of it) that Ichigo doesn't choose to fight him at those very words. Why would he? He wants to go help Rukia. When you consider that this is the same Ichigo who stopped to quarrel with Ganju before entering the Seireitei and was chided by Yoruichi for delaying the true purpose of his rescue mission, you have to consider that it's a little out of character (or in-character for an Ichigo who's matured somewhat) to walk away from a fight.
Ichigo says he has no quarrel with Ulquiorra because the Espada has not hurt any of his friends. The moment Ulquiorra makes it plain that he has, when he says that he was the one who brought Inoue to HM, Ichigo charges him. Much is made of this moment by IchiOri shippers to show the "true hidden" nature of Ichigo's feelings for Orihime but without any substantive previous manga evidence for such feelings, I don't see the mad love. I just see the usual impetuous Ichigo. I see an Ichigo who has finally snapped.
And Ichigo himself tells Nell at this point that he has to fight Ulquiorra because the Espada is NOT going to let him pass.
When this chapter came out, what I found shocking about Ichigo's behavior is that he prioritized Rukia over his mission. This struck me as a very un-Ichigo like thing to do--and in some ways a violation of that trust that Rukia wanted from him before the group split up.
The way I read the chapter was that Ichigo chose Rukia over Orihime, and while I saw the romantic implications of the choice, I didn't like the ethical ones. I wrote elsewhere:
It’s not a choice he deliberates; the Kurosaki Ichigo that Kubo Tite has given us in Bleach is a very in-the-moment person. Unlike Ishida, Ichigo doesn’t plan or consider strategies. He acts on impulse and fights with instinct. Despite Ichigo’s apparent lack of forethought here and his being unaware of having made an ethical choice (he simply forgets Orihime until Ulquiorra mentions her--he doesn’t even ask Ulquiorra where she is or if she’s alright), Ichigo’s actions ... make a case for Ichigo’s affections lying with Rukia. The parallel seems deliberate; the drama of the moment is laid plain. Then, of course, Ichigo is knocked down by Ulquiorra, and Ichigo’s unconsciousness absolves him of having to actually follow through on his choice.
The Ichigo of the past year (in our time, not manga-time--only hours have passed in the Bleach world) has been separated from Rukia and fighting his battles alongside Orihime. His character development has been slight, and the manga has focused on the elaborate backstories of the Arrancar and the fighting has been nonstop. Those who champion the IchiOri ship have loved the panel time spent together by that pair, but I've seen more to count against the ship than for it in these chapters; what I do believe, though, is that the IchiOri "romance" potential is a vital story element. It requires resolution; I fail to see, as do some IchiOri shippers, that the only resolution is romance or else Orihime will kill herself (yes, I've actually heard people say that).
What the IchiOri interactions of recent events have done is tease the plotline--it's called making things interesting. Just as when Kenpachi goes down for the count, but no one really believes he's dead and defeated. Bleach follows conventional formula--it is capable of surprising you (and Kubo is a master of surprises) but it doesn't go off-track when following shounen fighting manga form; neither does it compromise its characters. Most of the relationship development (as in friendship intimacy, yes, but romantic potential) has been between Ichigo and Rukia . The vast majority of the fandom believes that IchiRuki is inevitable ship, and even among those who don't see romance in the story, many see Ichigo and Rukia as the main figures of the story.
Much of the IchiOri interaction of the manga happened when Rukia was lying in a puddle of blood, supposedly dead. The drama was straight out of Mystery and Suspense 101.( I notice that Kubo, as clever a manga-ka as he is, uses that book often. Being a master doesn't mean not using cliches; it means using them well).
The momentum of the story continues to be IchiOri, though--when the current flashback gaiden is over, we should have Ichigo arriving at Tower Five in the presence of Orihime to fight Ulquiorra--unless Kubo pulls a fast one and switches the expected order of events on us. An IchiRuki reunion is inevitable, but whether or not it will occur before, during or after an Ulquiorra confrontation is anybody's guess. My guess is that because Rukia had her life-changing duel with Aarro that Ichigo is due his with an opponent and that we've got to see certain important character developments in our hero before he meets up again with the yang to his yin.
And that's all she wrote. Dinnertime.